Ball and Stick, Apple and Orange

Science Daily reported on research from Rice University that had actually appeared in a press release from Rice last week. Go figure. The new article includes the above image, however, which could be perceived as an improvement (or not) over the text-only copy from Rice.

A quick glance at the image caused a sudden nag, and I started to browse on before I figured out what was bothering me.

The nanotube should be made of atoms, right? Presumably those little grey shiny balls in the molecular model above. But interior to the nanotube, we see brightly-colored (one might be tempted to call them radioactive-looking) blobs that look like a scanning-electron micrograph of something-or-other. But these are supposed to be atoms! Specifically, astatine atoms, which should be a fair bit bigger than shown here.

This isn’t a big deal, I suppose, but it’s oddly distracting. First off, they use different visual vocabulary to represent the same kind of thing: atoms are shown in two distinctly different ways in the above image. Secondly (and I know I’m going out on a limb here), the image they choose perhaps even vaguely suggests cancerous cells… And given that the press release concerns using nanotubes to treat cancer, that’s potentially problematic.

Ladybug! Ladybug! Fly Away Home

The above image can be found on an American Institute of Physics webpage that accompanies a brief press relase about nanotube repair. (Amusingly enough, the HTML for the first of the above links seems not to have been changed from the previous Physics News graphic, so it reads “U.S. High-School Enrollment in Physics Classes.”)

Anyway, the caption explains: “The microscopic behavior of a carbon nanotube with a tear resembles somewhat the motion of a ladybug. The rip in the nanotube fabric, caused by heating stressing the nanotube, is sewn up in a moving process in which carbon a pentagon-heptagon structure propagates along the tube.”

Huh? I mean, I think I understand what’s happening, but what does it have to do with ladybugs? I mean, any more than it does an amoeba or something? Cute picture; unhelpful analogy.

I kinda like the filmstrip holes indicating the passage of time, but I wonder how biased that is toward people of a certain age. Do they use film in classes any more? Have most kids seen a movie projector, let alone an actual strip of film?

Oh, by the way, enrollment in high-school physics classes is up!